Is refilling the answer? We've been digging deep into the world of oat m*lk to find out!
Refillable Oat m*lk has been top of our stock wish list for aaaages now. There are lots of companies offering it (ReRooted, Devon; Oato, Cumbria), but sadly none that we could work with as they are all too far away. We also looked at making it with a Nutramilk machine in the shop, but came away deciding it was way too inefficient, and the feedback we heard was that the end product was no better than anything you could easily make up at home anyway.
As an interim measure, we brought in Minor Figures tetrapak cartons during the latest lockdown for a few reasons. Firstly we wanted to give people the chance to try it, as it really does taste awesome (in my humble opinion this is the best dairy alternative there is, both in taste, and in carbon footprint reduction), but also because we were increasingly being asked for it. Imagine our delight when we saw that Minor Figures were launching a new refill station! Awesome! However, as always, we like to show due diligence with these things and investigate further before we wade on in! So, here's what we found...
Minor Figures have kindly provided us with some figures on this. Their figures show that the total carbon footprint of a 10l Bag in a Box refill (2,248g) is just below that of a box of 6x1l tetrapaks (2,325g), meaning that per litre, there is over a 40% reduction in CO2. These figures include everything from field to fridge. That's pretty decent. Minor Figures have also confirmed this week that they are rolling out a full closed loop returns program, so that all of the components of the bag can now be broken down and recycled here in the UK.
The tetrapak cartons are, happily, fully recyclable in our area, so all of our local councils will take them away at the kerbside and turn them back into something else (when I refer to our local councils I have checked with Cherwell, South Northamptonshire, Stratford on Avon, West Oxfordshire and Daventry councils), so that's grand. In some parts of the UK it is still not possible to do this, thereby making this a no brainer from the outset!
We currently sell our Tetrapak cartons at £1.90/1l for the organic stuff. The refills cost us more at the moment as they are hand poured, so we would be selling 1l of the non organic m*lk for around the £2.00 mark (the RRP is £2.50/l). There are currently no imminent plans to offer the organic drink on refill.
As you would expect, the shop runs on renewable energy, and this will be running the pergal machine to keep the milk nice and cold. The pergal itself will have a large footprint in manufacture, and a small amount in use too.
Then there is the possibility of food waste. Milk in a tetrapak can be stowed away in a cupboard for weeks or months before being opened and used up. Refills need to be used within 5 days (although MF are going through extra testing to get this extended to 7+ days), so this may mean that for some, tetrapaks will still be a necessity, at least as a back up.
So what's the verdict then?
Well, whilst it's not the perfect solution, Minor Figures do seem to be working hard to make refilling an easier, more economical, and more sustainable answer.
They have their closed loop recycling scheme about to launch, which is vital to making this offer credible in areas such as ours where the tetrapaks are fully recyclable anyway.
Minor Figures offset the carbon on all of their products, and they include within that everything they do as a business, meaning that they are a certified Carbon Neutral company.
They have just invested in machinary to automate the filling of the refill bags as these are getting more and more widespread, this will help to bring prices down in the future.
Ultimately, the biggest impact you can make, in terms of footprint at least, is to switch what is inside the carton, rather than worry about the carton itself. The carbon footprint of dairy is significantly higher, even than rice or almond, despite having travelled across the planet to get here! Check out these graphics below, provided by Minor Figures, which put boring numbers into a much simpler format.
If you haven't tried oat m*lk before, come have a swig of it! I can honestly say that I have found it to be the best replacement for dairy milk, it holds together in teas and coffees, it tastes great on cereals, and is without question the creamiest of the alternatives. They do a semi skimmed for those that prefer their milk less creamy (I do not understand such people, but each to their own!)